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In 1872, a party of six men was hunting in an area at the source of what was then known as Willow Creek, which was the early name given to present day Trapper Creek. As the story has been told for many years, some of their horses eluded the party and they set out on foot in search of finding rides. One of the men became tired during the search and sat down to rest. At his feet he noticed a sparkle in the bedrock and upon inspection, he was convinced that he had found ore riddled bedrock at the surface. The fall season was quickly becoming winter and the men agreed to return the following spring to investigate the area more thoroughly.

On the 9th of July, 1873, P.J. Grotevant was the first to record a claim in what became known as the Bryant Mining District. His claim was named the Forest Queen and he also staked claim to the Lady Elgin on the same day. In less than a month, P.J. and his partners, J.A. Bryant, D.R. Parker, Joe McCreary, Noah Sanborn and Charles DeLovimur, staked claim to the Rocky Mountain Trapper Lode on August 6, 1873. By this time the placer mining of free gold in Beaverhead County, had become part of the past and miners were adapting new methods needed for hard rock mining. Areas such as the Vipond District were already producing ore by this time.

trapper from lion mountain

The news of the discovery was spread quickly and by the end of the year, 46 additional claims were recorded with the Clerk and Recorder at the County’s Courthouse in Bannack before the year’s end. Some of the men who followed the discovery party with claims included Noah Armstrong, a prominent mining figure in Madison County and Joseph Keppler, Montana Territory’s first jeweler.

In February, 1874, the Madisonian Newspaper reported that the area was being favorably developed and miners were seeking help from the Beaverhead County Commissioners to build a road, which was quickly becoming a necessity. The new road was planned to commence at Browne’s Toll Bridge at Darling and cross the foothills to Trapper Creek. It was a project that was completed in August of that year.

Miners were already working in the area and merchants and vendors were becoming established to supply goods and services to those residing in the mining district. The town that sprung up within a short distance of the Rocky Mountain Trapper Lode became known as Trapper City. On June 22, 1874, the first post office was established and Daniel Parker was named the first postmaster at an office known as Burnt Pine. Later on September 5th, the Madisonian reported;
“The District is becoming one of Montana’s most active camps in the Territory. Considerable building is happening and at the present two saloons, one butcher shop and a hotel is in operation.”

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The same newspaper reported on October 9th, that Trapper City consisted of about 20 buildings which included two stores, five saloons, a hotel and a feed stable. The reporter noticed the beauty of the surroundings and predicted that it would be a more than average mountain town in two or three years. At this time eighty men and four families were inhabitants of the community and by January, 1875, town lots at Trapper City were selling for $300-$500. During the month of March carpenters were busy erecting a new building to be used as a community hall. By May, thirsty miners were enjoying the products of John Mannheim’s Glendale Brewery after he started daily deliveries of bottled and keg beer.

The Madisonian featured the following description on Aug. 7, 1875;

"There are three stores in Trapper City, kept by L.S. Taylor, Tom Lowe and the Bissinette Bros. They are all doing a good trade, and are well filled with stocks of miners’ supplies and goods of every description.

Four saloons in the town give the boys "a chance" to quench their thirst to an unlimited extent. They do it daily. A fight each day is nothing unusual, and often two or three makes things lively. Taylor & Co., John Fall, Harry Neely, and Moses Morrison, are the proprietors of the saloons and they are conducted in the best of style.

Hotel accommodations are furnished by the Trapper City Hotel kept by John Connovan, and the LaMarche Hotel, run by A. LaMarche. Both are good houses, and the traveler will be well fed and cared for who stops at either of them.

Hamilton operates a shoe shop where cobbling and the new work is turned out to order - cheap for cash or approved jay-bone.
Animals are killed by Ledeaux & Hamilton, and the blocks of their meat-shop are filled with the double-concentrated quintessence of Montana bunch-grass. In other words, fat beef.

Thos. Lowe presented Father Kelleher with a town lot valued at $300, to build a church on and the building of a Catholic Church, will meet with encouragement in the camp."

Trapper City continued to grow for a couple of years, but because of its proximity to the many mines dotting the faces of Lion and Cleve Mountains, many chose to build about a mile away, to be closer to their interests and work. Soon afterwards, the burg of Lion City began to find its roots as a mountainous community. By 1880, many of the merchants at Trapper had followed the crowd to the newest community including “Mose” Morrison, an early day billiard hall and tavern owner. (It was noted in Michael Leeson’s 1885 “History of Montana,” that late in the summer of 1878, Morrison had discontinued in Trapper and had relocated his business to Lion City.) On the last day of June, 1882, the US Postal Service closed its operation at Trapper. Patrons were already utilizing and office which was opened six months previous in the Hecla Mercantile’s, Lion City Branch.

trapper city hotel

During its brief existence in Montana Territory’s history, Trapper City was the town founded to serve as home for the many miners and citizens in the richest ore discovery in Beaverhead County.

 

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